Our fiction editor, Robin Lauzon Parker, recently spoke with Warren Read, author of Issue #4’s “Somewhere in That Space.” Here’s what he had to say about his process, his inspirations, and the quiet moments and truths he explores through his writing.
What inspired you to write “Somewhere in that Space”?
The idea came from the memory of a similar instance in my childhood. I was spending the night at a friend’s house, and I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. His mother, whom I’d never met, was sitting in the dark and she said something to me, thinking I was my friend. That was about it, but the awkward, surreal tone of that moment stuck with me all these years. The rest of the details, the backstory of Rodney’s mother, the direction of the conversation, developed over a series of drafts as I worked to explore greater depth and complexity in the meeting.
What do you hope people take away from this story?
I’d like people to take away the notion that there are narrative possibilities in small moments, that even a simple exchange between two characters can reveal a great amount of complexity. Thematically, I’d hope that readers get to know two people who discover, in that single instant, a mutual aching to be understood.
What are you working on now?
I’m wrapping up another short story that I hope to begin sending out in the next month or so. I’m also in the final year of my MFA program (The Rainier Writing Workshop), working through revisions of the novel that’s my creative thesis. It’s a character-driven story of social claustrophobia set in a small, Pacific Northwest mountain town; I hope to start the process of agent shopping and manuscript submissions by springtime.
What is the best advice about writing you have ever received?
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned over the years—the one that sticks with me the most—is the notion that every word on the page should be intentional, serving the purpose of moving character and story from one place to another. This has helped me wield that “scalpel” when I find myself becoming too enamored with my own wordiness.
Can you describe your writing process?
I’m a pen and paper kind of a guy. I probably have half a dozen legal pads scattered throughout work, my car, at home. When I get an idea I throw down as much material as I can, oftentimes vacillating between disjointed phrases and full-on prose. Only when I feel like the story has legs will I sit down and compose it on the computer. Every few pages of material I print out and go over with pen again. I love working on paper, writing in margins and bleeding my notes onto the back page. It motivates me to see that kind of tangible draft work.
What’s the first story you remember writing?
In the fourth grade I wrote a picture book about an orphaned chameleon. I realize now it had all the elements of classic fiction: tragedy and loss, struggle, conflict and redemption—all in about 8 pages.
Your memoir The Lyncher In Me grew out of learning that your great-grandfather incited a riot in Duluth, Minnesota that resulted in the lynching of three black men, falsely suspected of raping a white woman. In “Somewhere in That Space,” the parallel drawn between Mrs. Kaminski and Steven implies that he feels there is something criminal about his sexuality, about harboring thoughts he might suddenly act on. I’m wondering if you consciously re-explored in fiction this theme of seeing the criminal in oneself, and if it’s one you keep returning to.
That’s such an interesting question, and one I hadn’t thought of until now. In fact, the darker, troubled back-stories of Rodney’s mother and Steven were developed during revisions out of a desire simply to make the characters and motivations more complex. But the truth is, I do tend to explore characters that walk that line between truth and secrecy, struggling with some dark part of themselves that is hidden. In fact, the short story I am finishing now involves an elderly woman who has taken up with an ex-convict, and the novel to which I referred earlier is a multiple point-of-view character study, initiated by the escape of a convicted murderer. Since you call attention to it, perhaps it is true that I am very much drawn to the idea of the duality in people, the concept that we all have secrets and we all struggle with some form of darkness simmering just below the surface.
In your bio you mention loving to travel. I wonder how that traveling influences your writing.
I always keep a journal when I’m traveling, and just as much as I’m overwhelmed by the uniqueness of a culture or setting that is so different from my own home, I’m drawn to the quiet moments that strike me as universal. A grandmother playing with her grandchild. A truck and its driver stalled on the shoulder of a country road. A couple arguing in the middle of the night. I’ve found that language and topography and customs may vary, but the overall human experience does not.